COHI: supporting Eritrean girls and women by working with men

COHI Eritrean refugee

We asked Sera Bonds, who follows Family Included, to describe her work with men and fathers.

“I didn’t know I didn’t have to hit my wife”. These words stuck hard the day we shared a Circle of Health International (COHI) training in Tel Aviv, Israel, with a group of Eritrean refugee men. The training’s content was gender-based violence, and the man who shared this secret with us is a refugee who walked from Eritrea to Israel, fleeing persecution, violence, and poverty.

Israel is home to roughly 60,000 African asylum seekers, the majority of them from Eritrea. Eritrean refugees travelled en masse and by foot to Israel in 2007. They fled persecution and endured traffickers, smugglers and violence. When they arrived in Israel they were greeted by imprisonment and a general sense of confusion.

Israel has no official process for asylum seekers to get the status of a refugee, the result of the government’s avoidance of granting refugee status to the millions of Palestinians that were expelled or fled during the 1948 war and after.

Eritrean asylum seekers are therefore stuck in a legal limbo, where they’re held under collective protection, meaning the situation in their home countries is so dire that Israel doesn’t deport them as a group. However, since their individual refugee claims are not examined by Israeli authorities, they’re not granted any rights.

I run an international humanitarian aid organization, COHI. We founded this organization with the goal of amplifying the voices of, supporting agency, and providing services to women and girls in some of the world’s hardest places. We do this through community-based partnerships with women-led and directed groups and organizations. We’ve worked in eighteen different country contexts, and have cared for well over a million women and girls worldwide.

COHI is one of the organizations providing care and support for the Eritrean refugee population in Israel, one of a handful. We are grateful to be a part of this thriving community, and are committed to raising awareness of the specific needs of this vulnerable population. The men in this community have taught us a lot, especially about how they don’t want to hurt the women they love. And they are asking for help in ending these cycles of violence.

One of the most significant mistakes of the women’s movement (that I am a proud, card carrying member of) up until the last few decades has been the exclusion of men from the efforts to improve the lives of women and girls. Without the inclusion of men, making room for them in the training, workshops and expert panels, we miss the opportunity to make profound examples of the men who are on our side.

Fathers should be with us, up at the front, being the change that they want to see in the world’s boys and men. The want to show their daughters examples of the men they want them to choose. Fathers want to show men how to do be strong, kind, and loving, righteously. We, the female leaders in this movement, should include fathers in our strategy to increase access to family planning, in our workshops about consent in sex. Without them and their buy in, the change we advocate for is limited.


Photo: Samout3. Creative Commons.